Eh, sorry, I didn't think it'd be of general interest. The Navy's been doing this for at least five years but guys have been spending their own money to have it done since 1997. The joke back then was that the Third Fleet staff was willing to try anything to improve their golf game. But I guess the NYT is tired of driving up to West Point and trapping Army officers into saying mean things about Rumsfeld.
I was going to be a USMC aviator but I had the same "lack of vision". Then I got a submarine cruise after plebe year and didn't care how badly things stunk.
USNA's graduation eye exam seemed pretty brutal to me but hopefully it's changed for the better. In 1982 I tested 20/30 in one eye and was told that I couldn't serve on submarines because I wouldn't be able to see out the periscope. (The doctors had never bothered to check this assertion.) Luckily I was allowed to keep taking the exam and I eventually passed.
But it's way too easy to blame submarine manning problems on those darn PRK machines. A submariner O-3 near the end of his first sea tour (and near the end of his obligated service) is pulling down $51K/year base pay
plus another $6K/year submarine pay and perhaps as much as $25K-$30K/year in tax-free housing allowance
. (Plus free medical benefits & groceries at cost +5%.) After five years' commissioned service he can sign a five-year bonus contract which will boost his pay by $25K per year
, and can keep receiving that bonus for another two decades. When the HR staff is throwing buckets of money like that you have to wonder if there's anything they're not telling you.
However I think aviators can sign a similar contract with about the same amount of money. It varies by aircraft and the personnel shortages of the moment.
In 1982-4 I was paid two $3000 incentive bonuses to enter the submarine training pipeline and then successfully complete it. A CPI calculator
claims that would be worth about $11,765 today so the $15K bonus has barely stayed ahead of inflation. I think that handing out the incentive bonus every year over the last quarter-century would produce an environment of expectations, not enticement.
The submarine force tends to have a reputation for lacking a sense of humor (no such thing as a carefree happy-go-lucky nuclear engineer) and for pretty brutal duty hours. Aviators have the "Top Gun" lifestyle with Tom Cruise & Kelly McGillis, the nukes have... Alec Baldwin & Sean Connery. The submarine force officer corps is also exclusively male and at least 90% white. So when you fail to even consider over 50% of your demographics, let alone encourage diversity, then it's gonna be a little tough to sell the rest of the suckers candidates on five hours a night of studying at Nuclear Power School. Midshipmen have the world's most finely-tuned BS detectors-- honed during four years of USNA practice-- and they can smell a bad deal from a long way off.
The NYT (or USNA's PA staff) left out a couple details. Until at least the mid-80s, USNA was required to put 80% of its midshipmen in engineering programs (only 20% could take "bull" majors). That tended to produce excellent test-takers who'd do well at nuke power school... probably up to a decade ago. Now just about any USNA mid can study just about any degree that the staff can support, and the "whole person" concept tends to produce critical thinkers who can write an essay but perhaps have a little trouble picking their way through a reactor design seven-factor formula or reciting the immediate actions for a reactor scram. However I bet the USNA graduation rate from nuke power school is still higher than those from ROTC or OCS programs.
I can't remember the submarine force ever getting all the USNA candidates, let alone officer candidates, that they had room for. Today's mids also have to interview & be accepted for their service selection instead of being able to pick whatever they want (based on class rank). All communities have to be filled before anyone gets to go over quota, although no one wants to go back to the dreaded "nuclear draft" of 1980. The NYT didn't mention that the sub community met their USNA minimum but had room for "extras". Without those extras they just have to work harder to get the students through the training pipeline. Some of them struggle in school and succeed in the Fleet while others just struggle.
The NYT could also have written about all the submariner candidates getting PRK. Wearing glasses on a submarine truly sucks and I don't think contact lenses were encouraged either. Back then I would have exchanged certain redundant portions of my anatomy for perfect vision, and I sure hope every submariner takes advantage of it now.
I didn't know that Joe Pasternak is still on active duty. His older brother Tom '82 is a submariner... I don't remember if Tom wore glasses but I bet he's eligible for a good PRK discount.
The NYT article I'd like to see would talk about how USNA is doing on their USMC & SEAL quotas, right, FlowGirl?